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Back-to-School Nutrition Guide: How to Boost Brain Health

Back-to-School Nutrition Guide: How to Boost Brain Health

After a long summer off, it’s time for your child to jump back into learning. This makes fall an important time to focus on brain health, especially in their first eight years of life, which is the most important time for developing this important organ, according to the CDC. There are four things that affect how your child’s brain develops:

  • Genes
  • Nutrition
  • Exposure to toxins and infections
  • Child’s experiences with the world

At Healthy Height, one of our goals is to help educate families on the importance of childhood nutrition. So, this back-to-school season, we want you to focus on nutrition to fuel your growing child’s brain. There are many ways you can use food to boost your child’s brain health, from getting the right nutrients to making time for breakfast. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you head back into the school year.

More: Growing Kids: Simple Things Parents Can Do to Help Them Along

Get Plenty of Protein

Protein is one of the most important nutrients for a growing kid, especially for brain health. “Proteins in our diet affect brain performance because they provide the amino acids (simply put, protein is made of amino acids) that make up our neurotransmitters,” suggest experts at Memory Foundation.

But what are neurotransmitters and what does that mean? Memory Foundation continues, “Think of neurotransmitters as biochemical messengers whose job it is to carry signals from one brain cell to another. These brain cells then transmit various signals to the different parts of the body to carry out their individual tasks. The better these messengers are fed, the more efficiently they deliver the goods.”

As you head into back-to-school mode, make sure your child is getting enough protein to power their brain during the school day. Start by checking whether they’re meeting their RDA or not:

  • Ages 2 to 3: 2 ounces
  • Ages 4 to 8: 4 ounces
  • Girls ages 9 to 18: 5 ounces
  • Boys ages 9 to 13: 5 ounces
  • Boys ages 14 to 18: 6.5 ounces

If your child is falling short, protein powder-infused snacks that are both tasty and nutritious are a great way to supplement, especially with picky eaters. Protein powder is also helpful for kids who have allergies that limit their ability to eat traditional protein-heavy foods like nuts, meat or dairy. Here are a few fun recipes to try:

More: Recipes and Meal Ideas

Indulge in More Omega-3 Fatty Acid

This important fatty acid is critical for overall health. Cleveland Clinic explains, “Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat the body cannot make on its own. They are an essential fat, which means they are needed to survive. We get the omega-3 fatty acids we need from the foods we eat.”

While they’re known for their heart health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids also important for brain health. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that this important fat has a number of roles in the brain, including building new cells, feeding the brain, and developing the central nervous system.

Check out National Institute of Health’s list of of foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed and a wide variety of fish. Is your kid munching on these foods regularly? If not, consider how you can start adding more to their diet this fall. One fish meal each week may be a good start, along with adding flaxseed to their yogurt, cereal or protein smoothies and shakes.

Follow the Mediterranean Diet

You may follow the mediterranean diet to some extent yourself, and your child could get a brain boost by following it as well. One 2014 study find that this diet can help reduce obesity in children. A 2017 study also found that it may be linked to reduced risk of ADHD, which is a diagnosis based on how the brain works.

Study authors found that this particular diet can reduce the risk of an ADHD diagnosis for a number of reasons:

  • High intake of refined sugars and foods high in saturated fats are associated with ADHD diagnosis. This particular diet eliminates foods that are high in those ingredients.
  •  This diet provides a wide range of nutrients in all the right amounts, which is crucial for brain health.

Luckily, eating according to the mediterranean will help everyone in the home stay healthy. Check out 5 Easy Mediterranean Meals for Weeknight Family Dinners to get some fun ideas.

More: The Best Healthy Drinks to Help Kids Grow

Don’t Forget Breakfast

The same 2017 ADHD study found that skipping breakfast was also associated with a diagnosis of the disorder. Conversely, eating breakfast regularly has been found to improve cognitive function and mood, and reduce absenteeism. This makes it an important meal for your growing kid, but you may be thinking, “I don’t have time to make breakfast every morning! Our house is chaos before leaving for school!”

If school doesn’t provide a nutritious breakfast option, use the following ideas to make breakfast easier:Prep ahead of time. Try overnight oats, homemade freezer waffles, or homemade freezer breakfast burritos.

  •  Make something that’s quick and easy. One of the best breakfast options is a protein shake or smoothie. Not only are they packed with all the nutrients your kid needs, but they’re quick and easy. Toss everything into the blender, pour into a cup with a lid, and head out the door. Get your kid on board with our chocolate blueberry smoothie.
  •  Keep it simple. Whole grain cereal (with little to no added sugars, like Barbara’s Original Puffins) or whole grain toast with nut butter are healthy options that are easy to make quickly. Your child may even be able to make these basic breakfasts themselves.

In addition to the nutritional benefit of eating breakfast regularly, these meal times provide other brain boosting benefits as well:

“Mealtime offers even more than the opportunity to support a child’s healthy development: it also provides a chance to connect with the child, create routine, and encourage the child’s exploration and love of nutritious food. When mealtime is a group activity, children can practice relating to others and developing their conversation skills,” suggests Brigitte Harton, RD, CD.

Boost Your Child’s Brain Health This Back-to-School Season

Your child is using a lot of brain power every single day, especially during the school year. Use this fall as a chance to focus on foods and eating habits that boost brain health, from eating breakfast every day to adding omega-3 foods into the mix more often.

Recipe By: Noelle Martin

Registered Dietitian

For more details and a full recap on the recipe, visit Noelle's Instagram post.